A stress test, also known as a stress exercise test, is a medical procedure that evaluates how the heart functions during physical activity. This assessment is crucial in understanding how the heart responds when it is made to pump harder and faster. Stress tests are employed to identify potential issues related to blood flow within the heart.
Why It's Done
A stress test is conducted for several important reasons
Diagnosing Coronary Artery Disease
This test helps identify coronary artery disease, a condition where the major blood vessels supplying the heart become damaged or diseased, often due to cholesterol deposits.
Detecting Heart Rhythm Problems
Stress tests can reveal irregular heart rhythms, known as arrhythmias, which can cause the heart to beat too quickly or too slowly.
Guiding Treatment of Heart Disorders
For individuals already diagnosed with heart conditions, such as arrhythmias or coronary artery disease, an exercise stress test aids healthcare physicians in evaluating the effectiveness of treatment and determining the best course of action.
Stress tests can be used to assess the heart's condition before surgical procedures to ensure the safety of such interventions.
To prepare for a stress test, patients should follow their healthcare physician's specific instructions. These preparations may include
Food and Medicine
Patients might be advised to refrain from eating, drinking, or smoking for a specified period before the test. Additionally, avoiding caffeine consumption on the day before and the day of the test may be recommended (For nuclear stress test) . Patients should consult their healthcare physician regarding the use of medications prior to the test.
What to Expect
A stress test typically lasts about an hour, encompassing preparation time and the actual testing period. The exercise portion of the test takes approximately 15 minutes and involves either walking on a treadmill. For individuals unable to exercise, medication is administered intravenously to mimic the effects of physical exertion on the heart.
Before the Stress Test
Patients undergo a brief medical history assessment and provide information about their medications.
During the Stress Test
Electrodes, sticky patches, are placed on the patient's chest, and sometimes on the arms and legs, to record the heart's rhythm. In some cases, body hair may be shaved to facilitate electrode adherence.
These electrodes are connected to a computer, which displays or prints the test results through an electrocardiogram (ECG).
Blood pressure is monitored using a cuff on the patient's arm.
The exercise itself may involve walking on a treadmill. The intensity of exercise gradually increases, and patients may use the treadmill's railing for balance without gripping tightly.
Exercise continues until the patient's heart rate reaches a specific target level. The test may stop earlier if certain symptoms emerge, such as chest pain, severe shortness of breath, abnormal blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, dizziness, or fatigue.
After the Stress Test
After exercising, patients may be asked to stand still briefly and then lie down while healthcare physicians monitor heart rate and breathing recovery.
Once the test is completed, patients can generally return to their usual activities unless advised otherwise by their healthcare physician.